Saturday, 1 August 2015

THE SATURNINE PRINCIPLE AND THE BACCHANALIA OF THE MODERN WEST

The Overthrow of the Apollonian Hierarchy

“Carnival celebrated temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order: it marked the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms and prohibitions. Carnival was the true feast of time, the feast of becoming, change and renewal.” [1]
Saturn is the most distant planet that is observable from the Earth with the naked eye. For the ancients the planet and the gods associated with it had special meaning. They considered Saturn – or Kronos, to use his Greek name – as lacking the divine ‘nous’ of spiritual illumination, that is the force associated with the Platonic light of the divine intellect.

The ninth-century Persian astrologer, Abu Ma’shar, identified Saturn as presiding over “avarice, blindness, corruption, hatred, guile and haughtiness.”[2] Saturn was also associated with the melancholic humor – hence the adjective ‘saturnine; which also has an alchemical connection to lead – the basest metal. A further association was with the Goat, as in the astrological sign Capricorn. This connected the planet to the another god, namely Dionysus.

The god Saturn, however, was the god of agriculture, who utilized his scythe – given to him by his mother Gaea to castrate his father Uranus – as a farming instrument. He also acted as the first King of Italy (known in the myths as Hesperia), having fled the high civilization of Greece after his son Jupiter revolted against him and his allies the Titans.

Ovid makes a similar connection between the word “Latin” and the verb “latente" meaning to hide – as Saturn supposedly “hid” within the primitive farming communities of early Greek settlement within the Italian Peninsula. This was at the time when the Greeks had figuratively fallen into “decay” in a Spenglerian sense.

The period corresponds with the Greek “Archaic Age” – starting around 800 B.C. and ending either with Xerxes’s attempted invasion of Greece in 480 B.C. or the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. This era is typically thought of as a highly developed period of classical culture that is associated with the perfecting of sculptural art, ionic columns, and the rise of the polis, but in other ways it was also a period of social degeneration.

This was a gradual process, as Plato’s formulation of the five regimes in The Republic makes clear. In Plato’s scheme the aristocracy was usurped by timocracy and oligarchy in the 6th century BC, when the majority of Athenians were enslaved by the rich. This then segued into Solon’s democracy of the 5th century BC and then into the Macedonian-supported tyrannies of the 3rd century BC.

Shock Doctrine as classical myth.
The empire that would become Rome sprung up from the periphery of this decaying and atrophied giant, because it was the place wherein the “first principle” of Saturn had hidden itself. The idealized pastoral life of the shepherd expressed in the phrase “et in arcadia ego” is not some exception to the Saturnian cycle of decay and rebirth but its very essence. According to H. A. Guerber in The Myths of Greece and Rome, Saturn is “a personification of Time, who creates only to destroy,” which is itself re-inscribed within the ‘Shock Doctrine’ logic of late-capitalism.

Within his personification as a god of agriculture, Saturn was further identified as a harvester and thus a guardian of wealth and a god of coinage. Accordingly, in the Middle Ages the Jews and their usurious practices were often associated with, and represented by, Saturn in his negative aspects. 

Saturn’s aged and decaying aspect, which was overthrown by his son Zeus, was thought to correspond to the “dying” religion of Judaism being overthrown by the ascendancy of the Son of God:
"Thus Saturn and the Jews both represent the unworthy fathers, who are rejected, defeated and displaced by their sons who establish new orders (Christianity and the reign of the Olympian gods). The rejected parents cannot accept this new order and remain isolated misanthropes nurturing their vengeful resentment and hatred." [3]
Further linkages of the Jews and Saturn are too manifold to be considered mere coincidence: Jews celebrate their Sabbath on Saturday – Saturn’s day. Cronus castrated his father Uranus (Sky), while the Jews continue to ritually castrate through the practice of circumcision, in accordance with their covenant with their god Yahweh. Philo of Byblos identified circumcision with castration, with Kronos circumcising himself to atone for his castration of his father Uranus, an act that established “a tradition of circumcision to be enacted in all future generations by fathers on their sons.”[4] Saturn is the son of Terra (Earth) and castrates his father. Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, is the son of Terah, which translates as “wild goat” – Dionysus again! He throws his father’s idols into a fire in an act of symbolic patricide. Thus, it is quite feasible that Abraham himself may have been a Hebrew personification of a Dionysian-Saturnine deity.

St. Augustine was among many who considered Saturn as the God of the Jews, and even in their scripture there are references to the Jewish god that strongly suggest affinities to Saturn.
"Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves."[5]
The Hebrew text refers to "Chiun." The Septuagint (2nd or 3rd century B.C.E.) translates "Chiun" as "Remphan," which was the Egyptian name for the planet Saturn.

Manly P. Hall (1901–1990), a mystic and a 33rd-degree Mason, taught that each of the three Abrahamic faiths has a planet that governs that religion. Hall pointed out that Judaism’s planet is Saturn, its symbol the hexagram, also a symbol of Saturn, and its day of worship is Saturday (Saturn's day). Christianity’s planet is the Sun, its symbol is the cross – also the symbol of the Sun – and its day of worship is Sunday, the day of the Sun. Islam’s planet is Venus, its symbol the star and crescent (the star is commonly thought to represent Venus), and its day of worship is Friday – the Arabic Al-Jum’ah, “the day of Gathering’ –the fifth day. Muslims worship the “Kaaba,” or the ‘big black box’ at Mecca, which has nothing inside it, because like the Jews they are against idolatry – the figure of Christ is for them an affront to their worship.

As in Aristotelian ethics, a continuum of vice-virtue-vice is typified in this tri-religious schemata. Hegel’s conception of Christ as the embodiment of Geist (Spirit) is also relevant – the figure of god becoming man in Christ is a reflective element that separates God from the infinite substance of nature. In Aristotelian terms, the abstraction of Judaism represents the vice of deficiency (desert tribalism), while the abstraction of Islam, which came after the virtue of Christ, represents the vice of excess (desert universalism). Virtue is found in the concrete form of Christ.

The vaccum at the center: desert universalism.
For Hegel, this teleological progression of Spirit meant abstracting first, and then concretizing and finally “maintaining identity through particularizing.” Hegel linked the last stage to the Protestant movements that were grounded in specific identity-politics – volksgeist – wherein the spirit is associated with a specific people. This has much in common with Hellenic paganism and tribal conceptions of the divine. The particularity of Christianity under various Protestant 'volksgeists,' however, weakened the concrete form of European unity – expressed in the Catholic Church – which had held the Jews under its watchful aegis. While Protestantism opened the doors to the spirit of capitalism, it also opened them to the Jews and the Saturnian ascendancy of matter over spirit.

While the early material worldliness of Protestantism was regulated by asceticism and piety, which countered and contained the avaricious and anti-social elements of the market, it nevertheless lent itself to a utilitarian tendency which would displace the volksgeist in favour of larger economic considerations. In this way, the Jews could become full participants in the political life of the countries where they dwelt. Thus the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, invited them to England to "enrich" its proto-empire. They would subsequently participate in joint crown ventures, like the British East India Company. So much for the volksgeist of the British!

Furthering the critique of Protestantism in this regard is Max Weber’s seminal work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Not only did the various strains of Protestantism move towards the market with a utilitarian mentality and a singular zest for worldly success, but “more emphasis was placed on those parts of the Old Testament which praise formal legality as a sign of conduct pleasing to God,” that is, they retained Mosaic Law and Old Testament morality, while moving steadily away from both Christian ethics and a sense of social justice, inwardly believing that they were God’s chosen people – England the one true Church:
"Thus when authors, as was the case with several contemporaries as well as later writers, characterize the basic ethical tendency of Puritanism, especially in England, as English Hebrews they are, correctly understood, not wrong."[6]
Weber is quick to point out that this ‘English Hebrew’ quality is not ‘Palestinian Judaism,’ which is of an older sort – “a naïve acceptance of life as such” – the Saturn Principle – but Talmudic Judaism whose ethos is described as “pariah-capitalism.” What Weber is effectively describing is a complex process undermining the crystalized folkish identity, and re-inscribing it with the values of universalism through the mechanism of the market – a nation of shopkeepers indeed!

Ferdinand Tönnies
The emergence of burghers and cities, along with a more complex stratification of the class structure and a trend towards increasing bureaucracy, was part of the centuries-long process transforming folk culture into a bourgeois cosmopolitanism, a process that is still underway in many parts of the world. The classic sociological analysis on the differences between folk culture and cosmopolitanism is found in the work of Ferdinand Tönnies and his concepts of Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society). The German National Socialist appeal to the restoration of a Volksgemeinschaft “people’s community,” was a call for a return to the concrete particularism of Hegel’s Geist – however, from a pan-European perspective, it lacked the unity of early Christendom.

Eric Hobsbawm, in Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism (2007) has argued that, as globalization turns the entire planet into a diffused kind of Gesellschaft, collective identity politics seek to recover the qualities of Gemeinschaft by creating artificial group bonds and identities facilitated through the culture industry [7].

While many astute people have described Nazism as the German variety of Judaism, with its particularism embedded in its biological racism – notably in the form of the blue-eyed blonde Aryan ideal – it also contained the Hellenic element of concretizing particularism on a spiritual plane.

Teutonic Classicism
This can be seen in its adherence to the Apollonian principles of form and the appropriation of Classicism in its aesthetics, such as the graphics of Riefenstahl, the architecture of Speer and the sculpture of Breker et al. ‘The Faustian’ in Spengler's conception corresponds too closely with the Dionysian in its unresolved openness. In fact the Faustian itself had to be overcome – Hegel makes a similar point in regards to the concept of the sublime, which is closely related to the Faustian, in labeling Judaism a religion der Erhabenheit – a religion of "the sublime."

It is slightly ironic than that the greatest categorical effort at defining ‘sublimity’ was attempted by the English Conservative Edmund Burke, although the attempt at classification is itself an overcoming of that which is 'beyond and unknowable.' In the modern age, the Teutonic spirit could only crystallize itself in Nazism’s classical adaptation, inspired and modeled on the Greco-Roman.

Hegel makes a relevant point, that the Germanic gods were too nebulous and superficial to withstand the onslaught of the Christian epiphany – “Their religion had no profundity; and the same can be said for their law.”

Returning to the Saturnine aspect of the Jews, it is interesting that the Jewish feminist Susan Sontag, infamous for declaring “the white race is the cancer of human history,” wrote a collection of essays, entitled Under the Sign of Saturn. The eponymous essay is on Walter Benjamin, describing his “saturnine acedia,” his “melancholy,” his “solitary” nature – all signifiers of a pariah nature based on resentment and abstract intellectualization.

The figure of Benjamin has enshrined itself in modernist discourse, given the tragic trajectory of his life, into the motif of the persecuted Jewish genius, too sensitive and too human for this cruel world of “brutish, book-burning, goy Nazis.” This makes Benjamin an ideal representative of the Jewish race, and a symbol – in their eyes – of the Jew being superior, but tragically misunderstood.

In fact, in a very precise way, Benjamin’s evocation of the flaneur is the return of the figure of the Wandering Jew. Benjamin himself, acting in this capacity, achieves a sort of metaphysical transcendence within the confines of the whore-mongering experience he describes; the wealthy son of Jewish merchants transcends and transgresses class, race, identity and morals to part-take in shiksa-banging-for-shekels. Within the surreal landscape of the cosmopolitan city, the Jew is released of his age-old burden and free to wander yet again – the desert becoming re-inscribed over Christendom as morals become subsumed by economics.

Walter Benjamin
But this bourgeois individualist rite of Saturnalia – expressed in class terms in Kubrick’s "Rothschild mansion" scene in Eyes Wide Shut – is bounded within the confines of bourgeois exploitation itself, hence the cognitive dissonance for a Marxist and Benjamin’s brooding, melancholic continence. His apologists, like Sontag, draw attention to his marriage to a gentile prostitute – in order to “redeem” her – only to follow his desire elsewhere when the opportunity arose.

Fin de siècle prostitution was specifically prevalent in concentrations of Jewish wealth. Weimar Berlin and “Red Vienna” were realms far removed from the empowered ‘happy hooker’ status of today’s supposedly empowered sex workers in Jewish-dominated Californication’s porno industry, who, according to popular culture, have emerged not as “victims” but as “entrepreneurs” and third-wave feminists.

This allows us to return to Dionysus – the god of the most lascivious license, as well as of ecstasy, terror, guilt and atonement, death and resurrection, vegetation, trees, wine, madness, and drama. Crowley thought Dionysus was “probably an ecstatic from the East.” In the myth of Thebes, he comes from the East to disturb the Apollonian peace of Ancient Greece. Euripides refers to the Asian origins of the god in The Bacchae, a play which culminates in the regicide of Pentheus, who would not acknowledge Dionysus as a god, and was ripped apart by a group of wild maenads, led by his own mother no less.

We also know that the Bacchanalian rites of the Roman Empire were similar to those performed in Greece and were summarily imported – thus, Dionysus, like Christ, is not a Greco-Roman god, but an importation. It is tempting to see both importations as symptoms of moral decay and decadence that worked by leveling the hierarchy of the Apollonian cultures. This was one reason that when European brought the tradition of Carnival to the New World, their Negro slaves were exempt from the celebration, but eventually through imitation they acculturated themselves as the true revelers – i.e. contemporary carnival in Brazil.

Globalization of the Dionysian.
For Nietzsche the meeting of the Dionysian and the Apollonian converged in ‘the birth of tragedy.’ He viewed the Dionysian in positive terms, symbolizing joyful affirmation of the tragedy of life, and opposed this to the Christian view, which he characterized as woeful denial of life’s offerings.
"Dionysius versus the ‘Crucified’; there you have the antithesis. It is not a difference in regard to martyrdom – it is a difference in the meaning of it. [In Dionysus] Life itself, its eternal fruitfulness and recurrence, creates torment, destruction, the will to annihilation. In the other case, suffering – the ‘Crucified as the innocent one’ – counts as an objection to this life, as a formula to its condemnation." [8]
But the other antithesis is that between the Apollonian, who is neither crucified nor ecstatic, but Olympian and triumphant, and the Dionysian/Christian. Christian piety can be viewed as an aspect of this Dionysian quality, representing the radical underside of its transformative power, with the pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other – much as we see in the Florence of the Medicis with the prophet-to-pariah status of Savonarola, or Stuart England with its tension between Cavaliers and Puritans. What better evidence of this dialectical process is needed than the adage of ‘sinners making the best saints’ – with the historical examples of St. Paul, St. Augustine and perhaps even the religiosity of C.S. Lewis, amongst countless others.

Using the Aristotelian continuum of vice of deficiency / virtue / vice of excess would be relevant here: the Dionysian would be the vice of excess, with Christ representing the vice of deficiency, and Apollo the virtuous middle.

Dionysius represents excessive revelry and overturning of the social order into a nebulous flux, while Christ takes the universalism of the communal feast of ‘Dionysian egalitarianism’ pares it down and concretizes it into a stable, sustainable social order. In this sense, Dionysus is mirrored in the Christian and Christ in the Dionysian, in the excess of sacrifice and the universality of their creeds, each reflecting a failing with regards to the Hegelian particularization process.

This is where Apollo and the pagan tendency to associate their gods with a particular nation, people, state, or city comes into play. This is the same point that Hegel makes about Islam being more Jewish than Judaism, in so far that Islam rid itself of Jewish particularism and intensified its abstract essence. The same is true with regard to Christianity, hence the modern possibility of overcoming Christianity through paganism, or Hegel’s double negation – Christianity negates paganism only to be itself transformed and negated by its negation.

These two basic vice-derived tendencies are inscribed in the modern world in the formal equality of the law, with its "Christian" internationalism and universalized ‘human rights,’ and in the
Dionysian nature of the boom-and-bust cycle that derives from the the perpetual instability of credit expansion and the credit contraction in floating exchange rates. 

With this in mind, the void opened by the experience of carnival does not necessarily serve to resolve the inherent tensions in the social order. In Derrida’s view, it only exacerbated them by maintaining the impossible dream of liberty, with its ideas of rebellion and the overturning of the social order: 
"The Saturnalia is not an inversion of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic that would have the master prevail in the end, to return home to an ordered house of repose. Instead the saturnalia of Sa [savoir absolu] is a ‘bad turn of seasons coming to put the history of spirit out of order’…Sa does not play to a specific dialectical end… Such disavowal in the speculative economy only works to reaffirm that economy. Negation is negated and turned into a positive… Instead however Sa ‘opens this play with a gap,’ barring reappropriation.’ Sa and its Saturnalia are a mal de saison whose aporetic fissures prevent closure or a return to a pre-festival order." [9]
This leads us back to numerous connections between Saturn and Dionysus. Both have myths of divine usurpation – Saturn against Kronos, while Dionysus in the form of Zagrues-Dionysus whimsically usurps the throne of Zeus. As Saturn presides over agriculture, Dionysus presides over viticulture. Both have a definitive chthonic element despite also having transcendental elements – in both time and ecstatic experience. Both are represented by goats: Capricorn for Saturn and the he-goat that presides over the festivals of Dionysus. That the Roman winter solstice celebration of Saturnalia was presided over by Dionysius/Bacchus is therefore not surprising.

Bacchanalia (1896) by Lovis Corinth
If Saturn is to be understood as Cronus (time) then Dionysus represents a radical break with normal time – the usurpation of the throne of Zeus – forbidden by social conventions and the rigidity and sclerosis of an established order. Today this dichotomy can be read in economic terms, as that between the productive and speculative economies. Dionysus is herein conceived of as time in flux – which in some ways corresponds to Devi’s notions of men in time as personified by the violence of the maenads and also the transcendental quality of ecstatic experience, which can push men above time. In some ways this corresponds to the dimension of space over the dimension of time.

In this way the chasm opened by Dionysian experience may alter the normal course of time, persuading men to go against time. Instead of Cronus devouring his children as the normal course of time – Dionysus is eaten as a possible precursor to the Eucharist, symbolic of the end of the communal feast and carnival itself, and the closing of the pagan world. Thus when carnival stops, lent begins.

Today, many of the principles of carnival are re-inscribed upon our social order – the constant flux of sensory, social and political constancy, variously described as liquid modernity, and, by Carl Schmitt as the ‘oceanic condition.’ This ‘oceanic condition’ which Schmitt identified with the rise of the thalassocratic merchantilism of the emerging Ordo Britannicus, entails the breakdown of hierarchy in an egalitarian ethos of democratic formal equality:
“As soon as the ordo Britannicus was established, a de-spatialized, disruptive order came about, one that radically opposed any previous archetype,”

Likewise, the ‘carnival of masks’ and the dissolution of every conceivable point of moral, ethical or semiotic stability is the essence of the modern multicultural society.

Think today of the issues of gay rights or feminism – the absurdity of Indian billionaires lording it over Buckinghamshire mansions, or Saudi princes flying in white Western escorts for transitory seraglios under the desert sun, while the white man himself is dethroned from his position as master signifier with the emergence of Barack Obama, as the United States slides deeper into its unipolar degeneration. As Francesco Loriggio points out:
"Democracy’s main semiotic vector is horizontal, its economy is based on circulation. Surface fluidity in all spheres is surely its most prominent visual characteristic… the citizen as perpetuum mobile remains forever at sea." [10]
Christ, as the counter-measure to Dionysian flux, walks on the water, thereby standing above time in flux, and acting as a catalyst for a new conception of time. However, the message of Christ today has been turned against the notion of a radical break with time. Secular humanism has pushed the message of universal love into a hegemonic and demonic totalitarian position, which sustains an inaccurate, imprecise measure of things, allowing the current state to float in a sea of meaninglessness.

Moving beyond the oceanic condition, means rising above the hegemony of Love, Hence the possibility today of Savitri Devi’s concept of “using Dark Age violence to advance Golden Age truths.”


NOTES:

[1] Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984, p. 10.)
[2] Eric Zafran, Saturn and the Jews, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 42, (1979), pp. 16–27, http://www.jstor.org/stable/751082.
[3] Eric Zafran, Saturn and the Jews
[4] Elizabeth Wyner Mark, The Covenant of Circumcision: New Perspectives on an Ancient Jewish Rite, Hanover, N.H: Brandeis University Press, published by University Press of New England, 2003. p. 82.
[5] Amos 5:25-26
[6] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Chapter V.
[7] 
Eric Hobsbawm Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorismp.96
[8] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, pp. 542-543
[9] Anais N. Spitzer, Derrida, Myth and the Impossibility of Philosophy, p. 103
[10] Francesco Loriggio, Social Pluralism And Literary History, p. 145


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